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Monday, May 25, 2015

They Were Soldiers Once

Narturally I'm watching We Were Soldiers Once, based on the book about the Battle of Ia Drang by Hal Moore and Joe Galloway.

This battle in particular has stuck in my mind for a long time because it was our first real fight over there and a big test of air mobility concepts.  I admit I'd not known about it until I saw another movie, Platoon--just an allusion to later ops in the area (presumably search & destroy missions) by Sgt Elias, but it was enough to make me look more into it (pre-Wikipedia!), and interested in the Moore/Galloway book when it came out in '92.  

By that point I'd already read A Bright Shining LieHell in a Very Small PlaceStreet Without Joy, etc.  We Were Soldiers Once...And Young was so very different from everything else in its intensely personal focus on our first steps into the quagmire.

Then several years ago I got an email after some discussion about Joe Galloway: 

My uncle died under Gen. Hal Moore's command in the Ia Drang Valley. I didn't know that until the movie came out and, realizing that the battle took place about the time of my uncle's death, I looked in the book and found his name there.
The guys who fought in the Ia Drang have a reunion once a year in Arlington, VA .  I live nearby, so I have had the honor of attending several times.  When I first found out about the reunion, I found an e-mail address for Joe and wrote him, asking if I would be allowed to attend.  I put a phone no. on my e-mail.  Joe wrote back that I was, indeed, welcome.  A week or so later, I received a phone call from General Moore; apparently Joe had passed on the phone no.  That was a fascinating conversation! 
I have gone to the reunion for several years now...When I met Gen. Moore in person, he told me he'd carried Uncle Luther off the battlefield, and he actually wept.  He said Luther was his friend.

Yup, Luther Gilreath fought and died in that valley in '65:

Edwards had gotten three brand-new second lieutenants as platoon leaders just before we shipped out of Fort Benning.

The 1st Platoon leader was Neil A. Kroger, twenty-four, a recent Officer Candidate School graduate from Oak Park, Illinois. Kroger's platoon sergeant was SFC Luther V Gilreath, thirty-three years old, a tall, slender paratrooper who hailed from Surgoinsville, Tennessee.
Although the enemy had withdrawn, he had left stay-behind snipers, and Diduryk's men came under sporadic fire, as did the landing zone and battalion command post. There were marksmen up in the trees and up on the termite hills. The North Vietnamese had been beaten back but hadn't quit yet.

Out in the Charlie Company sector Sergeant Major Plumley and I walked through the horrible debris of battle. We found Lieutenant Jack Geoghegan's body; the two of us personally carried him from the battlefield. Then we retumed, located Platoon Sergeant Luther Gilreath's body, and brought him back to the landing zone to begin the long joumey home.

The ensuing email exchange compelled me to visit Luther at the Wall, which I did several times during my frequent visits to DC once-upon-a-time (and still make an effort to do).

So another Memorial Day passes.  And war goes on tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...


May 25, 2015 | Permalink


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Ia Drang. The battle Galloway said convinced Giap they would win the war.

Posted by: A.J. | Jun 2, 2015 7:20:39 AM

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